Brussels weighs up whether Manneken Pis can pee on Hong Kong democracy movement

EuroActiv Politico News

One day, the city of Brussels is crossing swords with Russia. On the next, it’s up against China.

Municipal officials are weighing up whether to allow the city’s iconic Manneken Pis statuette — a bronze fountain of a urinating child — to be decked out in a “Hong Kong costume” to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China. 

Just days after Brussels suspended (but did not kill) its relationship with its sister city of Moscow, the city’s college of aldermen is now having to make a ruling on whether to stop the event over human rights objections and, well, piss off China.

According to the city agenda, the Manneken Pis will wear the celebratory Hong Kong costume on Friday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., with “greetings at noon.” 

It’s a highly inflammatory move given Beijing’s crackdown on human rights in the former British colony since the 1997 handover. The move sparked disgust among activists, who say the Belgian city government would be turning a blind eye to more than 1,000 political prisoners and 10,000 arrests made by the Hong Kong police in the wake of the 2019 mass protests against Beijing’s rule.

“While Hong Kong’s detention facilities are overflowing with political prisoners, it is the wrong time to celebrate this grim anniversary,” said Luke de Pulford, coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. “The statue may as well be urinating all over the Joint Declaration, which was supposed to secure Hong Kong’s way of life and autonomy, but lies in tatters after Beijing unilaterally trashed it.”

It is a Belgian tradition for the 61-centimeter Manneken Pis to receive clearance to mark major occasions. The statue even has a dedicated wardrobe museum where 140 outfits are on display. On Thursday, for example, it will don a costume marking the anniversary of the independence of Congo, Belgium’s former colony in Africa. 

For each outfit, an official request has to be addressed to the aldermen, which is then examined by a commission. According to the official website, some rules specify the conditions of acceptance of the outfit, including that it should not have a political or religious character. Every attire has to be approved by the city’s college of aldermen, which is set to discuss the Hong Kong costume on Thursday, but could make a decision earlier.

It was not immediately clear who has pushed for Friday’s event, but the costume was donated in 2012 by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Brussels. 

People following the situation said there was a good chance that Friday’s event could be overruled. Despite multiple requests, however, the office of Delphine Houba, Brussels’ alderwoman in charge of culture and tourism for the city, declined to comment.

Samuel Cogolati, a Belgian MP sanctioned by China for speaking out on issues related to Beijing’s abuses against the Muslim population of the western region of Xinjiang, insisted: “There will be no pro-Beijing clothing on Friday.” 

“It is inconceivable to me that the Manneken Pis would honour a regime sanctioned by the EU,” he said. “To ‘celebrate’ the handover of Hong Kong in this way, and under the impulse of the Hong Kong authorities led by Beijing, would be a complete incoherence and an insult to the millions of Hong Kong opponents who are fighting for democracy,” the Belgian MP added. 

The Chinese Embassy in Brussels, and Hong Kong diplomats in Brussels did not respond when contacted for comment.